Saturday, December 22, 2012

Review: JIU JIU

The 12 Reviews continue, if ever so slightly late (sorry, got caught up in family activities).  Today we come back to Viz and the Shoujo Beat line.  Devil and Her Love Song turned out to be surprisingly good, but how will today's selection shape up?

JIU JIU, by Touya Tobina.  First published in 2009 and first published in North America in 2012.

PLOT:  Takamichi Hachioji is the sole surviving heir to a long line of demon hunters, and she doesn't have so much a chip on her shoulder as she does a boulder on her should as far as her dead twin brother and her perceived worthiness towards her title are concerned.  Upon gaining the title, she was given a pair of jiu jiu, shape shifting familiars in the form of two wolf pups dubbed Snow and Night.  Now she and her familiars are teenagers (or the dog equivalent thereof), and Takamichi is trying to find a balance between her everyday life and and her duties as a hunter, all while Snow and Night do their best to tag along with their mistress, please her, and protect her from forces that would harm her.

STORY:  Jiu Jiu starts with promise, but the story just keeps spinning its wheels, lingering on everyone's inner monologue when it should be moving forward or at least delivering some supernatural action.

Takamichi is an all-too-familiar character type: the kind who had someone they loved taken from them, so they always try to distance themselves from others lest they love and suffer again, even from the familiars that love her unconditionally.  What makes it worse is that Takamichi harps on the issue over and over, no matter how many times Snow and Night demonstrate their devotion, and it becomes downright tedious by mid-volume.  She makes a little progress by volume's end, reluctantly admitting her own affection for her charges, but she still remains very guarded and even a little pissy.  Safe to say, she is not an easy character to like.

Snow and Night are a bit more loveable, but that's mostly because while they look full grown in both wolf and human form, they are still very much puppies at heart and mind, full of eagerness, curiosity, and unconditional love for their mistress.  It does get kind of awkward at points when they express that devotion by, say, cuddling with their mistress while she sleeps in their (nude) human forms.  Thankfully, the relationship between the three remains mostly chaste.  There is one chapter where things get weird, but the story mostly writes this off as a touch of madness induced by the full moon, and rarely have I been more thankful for a plotline to be wrapped up and forgotten.  The last thing I wanted to read about was a story about a girl and her two bishonen werewolves or ponder if doing it with a werewolf counts as bestiality.

Anyway!  Snow and Night end up carrying the biggest emotional load in the story, as it spends quite a bit of time with them in flashback and how they learned about their world and their mistress.  These moments were easily the most effective in the whole volume, as while the moral of the flashbacks often remained the same, the events were varied and often adorable.  Of course, I wonder how much of my perception was colored by the fact that OMG THERE ARE ADORABLE PUPPIES!

Of course, spending all this time on the relationship between our leads comes with a cost.  Takamichi is supposed to be a demon slayer, but we barely get to see her, Snow, and Night in action.  I'm not saying that this story should have been turned into a Shonen Jump style story, where the plot is driven by ever-greater villains and ever more contrived power-ups and the morals tend to center around shallow platitudes of friendship.  I'm simply saying that finding a better balance between exploring the relationship between Takamichi and her familiars and seeing them fight supernatural forces would have greatly improved the volume as a whole.

I never thought I would come to the day where I would want a shoujo series to be more like shonen, but I guess there's a first for everything.  Jiu Jiu builds a solid relationship between its leads, but it repeats itself constantly and it navel-gazes for so long that it forgets at times about the greater plotline.

ART:  I'll be blunt: the art for Jiu Jiu is awful.  There's nothing wrong with making your manga art stylized, but Tobina took things too far here and the result is a mess. 

Her character designs are spindly and pointy, as demonstrated in the tangle of limbs and cloth on the cover.  Faces tend to be simplifed to a point just shy of 'emoticon,' and as such their expressiveness is limited and broad.  Frankly, anytime anyone has to emote beyond 'neutral' or 'scowl' the results are rather bizarre and often off-model.  It really doesn't work with Snow and Night, as they're a strange mix of standard bishonen with Tobina's peculular style, and it mixes about as well as oil and water.  She does do better with their canine forms, which are sleek and least until they go into 'happy puppy' mode, at which they look more like normal, happy, silly dogs.  Their puppy forms are downright adorable, as are the brief glimpses of them as human kids.  Maybe Tobina should focus more on her cutesy, chibi-fied art, as she seems to have a better handle on it.

As mentioned, there isn't a lot of action, but that actually may be a blessing because Tobina's not very good at drawing it.  There's no sense of fluidity or motion in these fights, just a lot of poorly framed poses.  The pages are packed with panels, but the panels are rather varied in size and shape and layering is kept to a minimum so they usually don't become too cluttered to bear.  Backgrounds are highly minimalistic and Tobina relies heavily on screen tones and effects.

Jiu Jiu's story did at least have a solid and sincere emotional core to counteract its faults, but its artwork has no sort of defense.  It's stylizied often to the point of ugliness and rarely does any favors for the writing.

PRESENTATION:  Nothing to see here.

Touches of genuine emotion and occasional bits of cuteness are not enough to save an overly moody and repetitious story and overly stylized and poorly drawn art.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is ongoing in Japan, with 5 volumes currently available.  2 volumes have been published so far, and both are currently in print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

Want a chance to win Volume 1 of this and 5 other series?  Leave a comment to enter the 12 Reviews of Christmas Giveaway here!  The contest ends on Christmas Day!

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